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Watching my daughter bully her doll was something I couldn’t get out of my mind. Here’s what I learnt while teaching her about bullying.
“Indeed, as I learned, there were on the planet where the little prince lived – as on all planets—good plants and bad plants. In consequence, there were good seeds from good plants and bad seeds from bad plants. But seeds are invisible.
They sleep deep in the heart of the earth’s darkness until someone among them is seized with the desire to awaken. Then this little seed will stretch itself and begin—timidly at first—to push a charming little sprig inoffensively upward toward the sun.
If it is only a sprout of radish or the sprig of a rose-bush, one would let it grow wherever it might wish. But when it is a bad plant, one must destroy it as soon as possible, the very first instant that one recognizes it.”
This is an excerpt from the famous and revered novella ‘The Little Prince.’ Here the prince categorically talks about the seeds of the baobab. The baobab is something that requires early attention. If not, it will spread its devious image in the entire planet and may split it into pieces.
I draw a parallel to this and our journey of parenting. Nipping the toxic tendencies in the bud is very crucial and vital in our kid’s life. Or else like baobab, it will grow monstrously, uncontrollable and create a problem to the kid and the world at large.
When I saw M holding the pouch, I did not sense any harm. Hopping and bouncing, she came to me and thrust the pouch on my hand. With a beaming smile, she asked me to open it. When I opened it, I found her little mermaid doll hiding in a pouch. I held my breath and was calm.
Before I could say anything, M, with her big round eyes uttered, “Amma, I have put Marmee (that’s what she calls the doll) inside this pouch. I do not like her.”
Before I could respond to that, M was on her way to her toy world.
This came more as a surprise than a shock because I’d never heard M so much as utter a word of dislike with such conviction. Normally, she is charmed by everything at one glance and the word of contempt was almost unavailable in her dictionary.
So I let this pass. I went to her and said, ‘If you do not like Marmee, let her be free. Don’t hide her in the pouch!’ And I thought I’d made peace with the situation.
However, the scene still didn’t sit very comfortably with me. I awoke long before dawn and lay in bed thinking about M and her doll. As the sun rose vibrant and filled the space with its pink glow, I refused to break my head over the situation. Donning the philosopher’s hat, I thought, ‘this too shall pass.’
Mind you, I did not sense any harm at all.
A few days later, I was in an office call. M was alone in the bedroom and the door was slightly ajar. Once I finished my call, I thought of checking in on her so I pushed the door open.
That’s when I sensed the harm! The baobab. I recognised it instantly and I knew I had to stop it from developing into a catastrophe. The toxicity needed to be stopped as was the bully mindset M seemed to have.
I opened the door and saw M squeezing her Marmee doll, she was trying to push the doll between the bed frame and the mattress. It was an awful sight.
Sometimes, the bullying tendency seeps into the child’s space unknowingly. No matter how subdued or well-behaved a child is, it can crop up without any intimation. And when it is discovered, it is on us to address the issue, to explain to the child the negative aspects of this tendency. To educate them on bully behaviour is vital.
Children do not know the difference between a real live person and an inanimate object. For them, even toys have emotions and personality. Children, when they are young, are shown rattle toys. They watch these toys with amazement.
For them, the rattle toys are some sound monsters or some sweet-sounding birds which they attract their attention. As they grow, the dolls they play with become real in their eyes. They carry all the routine, inconsequential things with the doll. And in the process, they become emotionally invested in them.
If I had left this bully mindset slide, M would go on thinking that it was normal to bully others. And the thing we fear the most will definitely happen – she might start bullying her friends very soon. At her age, Marmee and her real friends are pretty much the same. They are all one entity without any disparity. So this baobab had to go, had to meet its grave and be free of M’s heart before it pervades her.
Once we have recognised tendency to bully, the next step is to communicate it to the children. Communication with a child is an art in itself. We need to sit with the child, meet their level of thinking and use words that they are equipped to understand. In short, we need to empathise.
When I gained my sense of equilibrium, I sat with M and I told her, “What you did today was not okay and it hurts Marmee. Marmee is like your friend. She has feelings too. If someone hurts you, you will feel the pain. Likewise, Marmee felt immense pain when you squeezed and pushed her. What you did is also called bullying. We should not bully anyone and not let anyone bully us. Now please say sorry to Marmee.”
This was the first level of tackling. The empathetic way of expressing, often, reaches children’s mind. M saw some sense in my words and she apologised.
But that did not stop her from bullying the doll. Though she found ways to disturb the doll, I was there to reinforce the expression. Sometimes through words, sometimes through confiscating her favourite puzzle and board games. And sometimes donning the bad cop hat i.e asking her to stay put in one place without giving any resources to play.
Cut to present that is five days after that act, she realised her mistake. Now, Marmee is safe and free from the bully.
To sum what happened briefly would be – Recognise. Communicate. Express with empathy. Take action.
The last step is completely case to case. A one size fits all approach will not work. I won’t endorse saying one should not admonish the child by laying hands on them.
If you ask me, I don’t strongly approve/propagate that idea but I am no enemy. The ill behaviour which poses harm to society should be strongly condemned. Point being, a customised approach that suits the child’s understanding level should be implemented.
Bullying is the aggressive, unwanted behaviour that is done on purpose to harm someone. It involves attacking someone physically or verbally. Teasing and calling names are the most common forms of bullying while physical harm is also up there.
Bullies pick on any difference: timidity, body size, intelligence or being a ‘different’ colour or religion.
Often a child who bullies others may possibly have experienced it and is unaware of how to process the emotions. To be clear, a bully is often a victim of bullying too.
But in M’s case, that wasn’t true. So, the conclusion here could be that a child who bullies others may not have had the experience at school or at home.
Often, the power factor also comes into the picture as the child being a bully might be seeking power. The child may derive pleasure from having power over someone who is timid or shy and doesn’t express too much.
M may have found Marmee to be perfect to be bullied since the doll is mute and can’t express. I am just laying down different possibilities that are based on what I saw.
Thirdly, family conflicts, like parents going through a separation or some other emotional upheavals can also cause bullying behaviour. Lastly, a child may use bullying as a way of seeking attention from the parents or the family.
Family conflicts like a couple going through a painful separation or some emotional upheaval can result in this behaviour.
While these are some of the usual ways, an aggressive bully should not be taken lightly, and a stricter approach may be necessary. A child bullying another child is also undergoing an emotion that he/she is not able to express, so it is better to look for help or counselling. Bullying can be nipped in the bud if parents take cognizance of the problem and enforce the boundaries.
Parenting is all about being watchful 24/7. While this applies to all the parents at all times, it is extremely necessary for those parents whose kids are in their early developmental phase. In this phase, kids are young and still learning.
They are constantly watching around and trying to gather, observe and assimilate whatever their little minds can. And are not well-equipped to handle uncertainties, conflicts, and new experiences. Their brain is not fully formed to carry out the reasoning abilities.
In this case, as parents, we need to be extra watchful. The responsibility to lead with example lies on our shoulders. Any small or atomic aspect can be a learning for us and the kids.
Parenting is a long road and there are no directions. No trail of lights to channel the course. We just have to trust our instincts and walk ahead. Also, every experience makes us one bit wiser and gives an opportunity to impart the right values to the kids.
So, this experience taught me more than what it might have taught M. M might require more reinforcement on this topic. She understood the negative effects of bullying. Now, she empathises with her doll and that’s a positive thing. But it is a long and challenging road. I may have to keep the torch on and walk till it’s fully registered in her mind. Till the baobab is fully gone.
To be kind is the greatest lesson that the children need to understand and every effort needs to be put from our side to build kindness in them. If “Parents are today’s heroes shaping tomorrow’s heroes,” let me add tomorrow’s heroes with kindness to make it sound more world friendly.
Picture credits: Disney’s ad on YouTube
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